How dismal, depressing and yet utterly predictable has been the fuss over the arrangements for Fr Philip North’s consecration as Bishop of Burnley. It was Fr Philip himself who, in a speech to General Synod at the group of sessions which gave final approval to the Measure enabling the ordination of women to the episcopate, spoke of the responsibility which now lay on every member of the Church of England, and from every tradition, to focus on ‘winning the peace’: to set aside theological differences about who may be ordained, and how, in the common cause of mission and the re-evangelization of England.
Watch appears to be incapable of doing this. All those who have professed themselves to be horrified or appalled by something which is both uncontroversial in law and pastorally sensitive appear incapable, too, of understanding that without the sort of arrangements thoughtfully put in place by the Archbishop of York, the vision for mutual flourishing embodied in the Five Principles (the interpretative tool by which the admission of women to the episcopate is to be understood) would be substantially frustrated.
Thus we have been treated to the spectacle of various people (most of whom should know better) suggesting that the arrangements for Fr North’s consecration conflict with the Church of England’s ‘clear decision’ to proceed with the consecration of bishops who are women. How many times must we say it? Without the Five Principles – or something like them – the draft legislation on women bishops would have been defeated again in 2014, as it had been in 2012. Members of Synod were free to argue in 2014 that the package was the wrong one; a principled vote against the legislation on the grounds that it ‘gave too much’ to those who cannot wholeheartedly endorse the ordination of women, or that it proposed a way ahead for the Church of England which was greatly in error, would have had integrity. To complain – loudly and publicly, and at what should have been an unqualified time of rejoicing for the whole Church of England – after the event is not only underhand, but demonstrative of a total failure of charity. It is quite clear now that it is the view of some in the Church of England that not only should they ‘win,’ but that everybody else should be defeated: not winning the peace, but continuing the war.
Watch should be careful that it does not alienate many of its natural supporters, including many senior ordained women in the Church of England, who are committed to ‘mutual flourishing’ and who understand the practical steps needed to turn the vision into a reality. Woe to you when men speak well of you. But we seem to have reached the interesting position whereby Forward in Faith is respected as being far more representative of mainstream Anglicanism than many of its increasingly embittered opponents.
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In his introductory essay to his new book On Rock or Sand: Firm Foundations for Britain’s Future, the Archbishop of York suggests that the ‘solidaristic vision’ of Britain following the Second World War has given way to individualism and consumerism. If he is right, when did this change begin to take place? For the generation now entering their second half-century, a formative period was the decade which fashion forgot: the Seventies. Far from this being a time characterized by mutual support and commitment to the common good, it was a period when (as historians Dominic Sandbrook and Andrew Marr have reminded us in recent books) management and unions were fighting one another in the industrial trenches; and when, to give one example of the general sclerosis which prevailed, investment in the urban environment was negligible (and it showed). Nor was it a time of solidarity between the sexes; women’s pay lagged far behind that of men. Minority groups in society were only just beginning on the road to acceptance and inclusion, though of course there is still a very long way to go.
It is good that the Archbishop has commissioned and edited this book, which has a number of fine and thought-provoking essays. But we would venture to suggest that to begin from the premise that Britain in the Fifties, or Sixties, or Seventies was a place of sunlit uplands now descending into shadow, does not quite tell the whole story. ND